Highlands & Islands

Highlands pays tribute to Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy Image copyright PA

Tributes have been paid in the Highlands and Islands to former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

Mr Kennedy, a former MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, died at his home in Fort William on Monday, aged 55.

Father Roddy McAuley, parish priest at St John's Church in Caol, said he was a "much loved and respected parishioner" who would be "sorely missed".

His former constituency chairman Jamie Stone said Mr Kennedy had been a "star who glittered very brightly".

Mr Stone said: "My wife Flora and I were utterly devastated by this terrible news. It was solely because of Charles that I decided to join the then SDP, which was to eventually merge with the Liberals to form today's Liberal Democrat party.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Kennedy died at his home in Fort William

"Charles was a star who glittered very brightly in the political firmament, but at the same time he never lost his extraordinary ability to communicate with ordinary people in a way that was virtually unique in politics.

"I have lost the truest of friends, someone who meant a very great deal to me."

Both of Mr Kennedy's parents were laid to rest at St John's Church in Caol.

Father McAuley said he was a "very humble and thoughtful person".

"He will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of his family."

Broadcaster Hugh Dan MacLennan attended the same school as Mr Kennedy, and both worked as journalists at BBC Radio Highland.

'Cub reporter'

He recalled: "We both went to Lochaber High School. He was four years younger than me.

"At lunchtime we would all go out and play football and shinty, and Charles Kennedy would go to the school hall and practice oration."

Mr MacLennan told how as a "cub reporter" at the BBC, Mr Kennedy had been sent to cover a story about a boat alleged to have once belonged to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

"Charles came back with an interview, but with noise of a joiner banging in nails in the background," he said.

"He thought that the noise could be cut out. We had to send him back out to do the interview again."

Mr MacLennan said Mr Kennedy gave his life to politics.

Violet Smith, head teacher at Lochyside School where she was also a pupil with Mr Kennedy, said from an early age he had stood out from the other schoolchildren.

She said of their time at the primary: "He was always singing on the way to school.

"He had a great interest in nature and his grandfather had a croft locally and we would often make trips their to feed the lambs. He was very proud of that."

Mr Kennedy continued to visit the school in later life and attended its recent 50th anniversary event.

Ms Smith said: "One of the little girls in primary two was watching breakfast news and saw the news along the bottom of the screen about Charles' death.

"She remembered him from the anniversary event and was in tears when she came to school."

'Petty cash'

Veteran journalist Iain MacDonald offered Mr Kennedy a permanent job at BBC Radio Highland.

He said: "We had Charles for a summer before he took up a Fulbright Scholarship in Boston.

"He came to us with an irrepressible enthusiasm and people took to him immediately.

"I offered him a job permanently when there wasn't one, but said I would pay him out of petty cash.

"But he said he might not get the chance to take up the scholarship again and he would have to go."

Within the next year he was adopted as election candidate for Ross and Cromarty.

Council tributes

"He stood against a government minister - the energy minister at a time when the North Sea oil industry was booming - and he won."

Senior Highland councillors have also paid tributes to Mr Kennedy.

Lib Dem group leader David Alston said: "Always rooted in the Highlands, he stood on that ground to look to the world beyond."

Jimmy Gray, the council's Labour group leader, described Mr Kennedy as "a wonderful communicator, a very very warm person" who would be "sadly missed".

SNP group leader Maxine Smith said: "55 is far too young to lose anyone and my thoughts go out to his family."

Margaret Davidson, who heads the Independent group, said: "Charlie was a most decent man and a fine Highlander."

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